The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It plays a part in numerous processes such as protection from viruses, bacteria, other environmental factors, temperature regulation, exchange of liquids, etc.

Most people are unaware of skin's importance, as they focus only on its role in physical appearance. However, changes in the functioning of the skin can have consequences for health. They can even be life-threatening. That's why you should never take dehydrated skin symptoms or any other skin condition lightly.

Overview

Dehydrated skin is not a skin type. It is skin that lacks water (moisture). Therefore, all skin types are at risk of becoming dehydrated.

While mild skin dehydration is easily fixable, more severe cases require medical attention. In all cases, skin dehydration is a tell-tale sign of low hydration in general. That means the other parts of your body are probably struggling to retain proper levels of moisture.

There are many potential reasons for this. Some of them are external, while others are of internal origin. Seasonal changes, weather, air temperature, a diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables, alcohol, and caffeine consumption are potential causes of skin dehydration.

Dull-looking, sensitive, and itchy skin are the first signs of dehydration. Dehydration rash is also a common complication.

Other dehydrated skin symptoms include:

  • Extreme darkening of under-eye circles
  • Sunken eyes
  • Increased appearance of wrinkles and small lines
  • “Shadows” around the nose and eyes

It is also crucial to differentiate dehydrated skin from dry skin. The first one is a skin condition, while the latter one is a skin type. Most people get confused with this. That's why, in this article, we include a comparison of dehydrated vs. dry skin to help you understand all the differences.

Dehydrated vs. Dry Skin

Dry skin and dehydrated skin are two very different categories. They also require a completely different approach in treatment and prevention. In simple words, dehydrated skin needs more water, while dry skin needs more oil.

Dry skin is a skin type. Other skin types include "normal" skin, combination skin, and oily skin. The main characteristic of dry skin is the lack of natural oil called sebum. That is a substance naturally generated inside the skin by tiny organs called sebaceous glands.

People with dry skin type produce less sebum. Their skin can benefit from oily skincare products to replenish its oil supply.

The usual symptoms of dry skin include:

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Scaly skin
  • Flaking

Dry skin is less prone to acne. However, people with dry skin are more likely to have eczema and psoriasis.

You can have dry skin due to a genetic predisposition. It can also be a consequence of an underlying condition, such as hypothyroidism or a hormonal imbalance.

Dehydrated skin is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of the skin type. It has nothing to do with the oiliness of the skin. The lack of water is what causes skin dehydration.

Depletion of water from the skin can happen for many reasons. It affects both the skin's appearance and its function.

Dehydration is a systemic process that affects the whole body. It means that you are losing more water than you are taking in. Therefore, if you have dehydrated skin, that's only a sign of a potentially larger problem.

Dehydrated skin symptoms are:

  • Itchiness
  • Dullness
  • Over expression of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Sensitivity
  • Dark circles
  • Sunken eyes

On the other hand, general dehydration can cause:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Less frequent urination
  • The darker color of urine

When you recognize and treat dehydrated skin on time, you can also prevent other complications related to dehydration. That is why it is essential to treat dehydration from both inside and outside.

Topical skincare products work well, but dietary and lifestyle changes are crucial for comprehensive treatment with long-lasting results.

Dehydrated Skin Symptoms

We've already mentioned all the symptoms, but let's explain them now in more detail.

Increased Sensitivity of the Skin

When your skin has a low moisture content, it becomes more sensitive. Some studies about sensitive skin show that increased hydration can help reduce sensitivity. Loss of moisture that causes dehydration usually indicates a disruption in the skin's barrier function. When that's the case, harmful elements from the environment can penetrate deeper into the skin and cause infections, inflammation, and other complications.

Itchy Skin

Dehydrated skin feels dry, tight, and itchy. That's because the epidermis (the outer skin layer) does not contain enough moisture. It is the same reason why the skin feels itchy after some time in cold and windy weather. Extreme weather and temperatures extract water from the skin, regardless of the oil content and the skin type.

Dullness

Dehydration causes your complexion and skin tone to look dull. In physical appearance, dull translates into tiredness.

When dead skin cells shed off, new cells take their place. That's how a normal process of skin regeneration works. However, the lack of water harms this process. The dead cells do not fall off and do not get replaced with new ones efficiently. Instead, they accumulate on the skin's surface, clogging-up pores and causing a dull complexion.

Over expression of Fine Lines and Wrinkles

Lack of moisture affects the appearance of your skin in many ways. The wrinkles on dehydrated skin look more prominent. The dehydrated skin faces faster aging, loss of volume, and a functional decline. You might notice a network of fine lines criss crossing your skin. These are especially visible when you pinch a small portion of the skin.

Dark Circles and Sunken Eyes

The skin under your eyes is sensitive to the lack of water. More so if you already have dark circles. When your skin does not contain enough moisture, the skin under your eyes starts to look lackluster, and your eyes look sunken.

Dehydration Rash

A common complication of dehydrated skin is the dehydration rash. It develops with other dehydration symptoms, such as itchiness, flaking, and cracking of the skin. The severity depends on the severity of dehydration. The rash is made worse by scratching or rubbing the skin. The damage to the outer layers of the skin opens up a path to pathogens from the environment. That increases the risk of skin infections and other unwanted complications.

Test your Skin for Dehydration

To check if your skin is dehydrated, you can do this simple "dehydrated skin test." It’s an at-home test that requires only your cheeks and your fingers.

Take a small portion of your skin from the cheek area. That's where facial skin always has the most volume. Pinch the skin with your fingers lightly. If a triangular pattern of fine lines forms and does not subside when you let go, your skin is most probably dehydrated.

If you suspect that your skin lacks moisture, but this test does not assure you enough, seek out professional help. Aesthetician or a dermatologist will be able to tell you if your skin is dry or dehydrated. They will also devise a treatment plan accordingly.

Another test you can do to determine whether you are getting enough water is a pee test. Check the color of your urine, especially in the morning.

Here’s what you can tell from the color of your urine:

  • Colorless (transparent) – you are over hydrated. That means you are drinking too much water. Yes, that's possible, and it's not a good thing. Frequent urination can lead to a loss of minerals and electrolytes. Try drinking a bit less water until your pee color gets a hint of yellow.
  • Lemonade color – indicates hydration. Keep it up and consider replacing water sometimes with liquid-rich fresh fruits and vegetables. After all, that's where the vitamins are.
  • Golden to copper color – does not mean that you are dehydrated yet. But, it is an indicator that you're heading down the dehydration path. A couple more glasses of water a day would not hurt you at this stage.
  • Orange or light brown – indicates dehydration. Plain water can help here, but a faster recovery needs more electrolytes, especially if you've had diarrhea or vomited recently. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization and IV infusion of electrolytes.

What causes dehydrated skin?

There are five leading causes of skin dehydration. These are:

  1. Diet: Diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol will draw out water from your body. The same goes for sweets and all processed foods. On the other hand, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can be a great hydration booster.

  2. Environment: Sun, wind, cold weather, and other environmental factors can drain moisture from your skin, leaving it dry, itchy, cracked, and irritated.

  3. Harsh Cosmetics: Some skincare products contain aggressive chemicals that can damage the skin and facilitate water loss.

  4. Air Conditioning: Air conditioning does not only make the air colder. It also makes it dryer. By drawing humidity from the air, the AC indirectly draws some moisture from your skin too. The result is dull-looking and dehydrated skin.

  5. Hot Baths and Showers: Your skin has a layer of protective oil on the surface. But, when you use too hot water for bathing and showering, it takes that protective layer off. That makes moisture loss easier and causes dehydration of the skin.

Treatment Tips for Dehydrated Skin

To successfully treat dehydrated skin, you need a comprehensive approach. It is not only enough to change your skincare routine and introduce new cosmetic products. Skin dehydration is a signal of an overall hydration problem. Therefore, it requires lifestyle and dietary changes as well.

The first thing you need to look at is the amount of water you intake daily. You might be surprised how small it can be. The old rule of eight glasses per day still applies. However, feel free to increase the intake of water if you are physically active or overweight.

Another proven method to increase water intake is through diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in water. Some, such as watermelon or celery, are good sources of liquids.

In general, you should try to eat more plant-based foods, especially lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers, cabbage, zucchini, legumes, and melons.

Alcohol and caffeine are the enemies of hydration. Both are diuretics. That means they "help" your body get rid of water. Alcohol, for example, slows-down hydration. If you want to stay hydrated, eliminate caffeine and alcohol from your diet or limit their intake to one alcoholic drink and two cups of coffee a day.

There are also some lifestyle changes you can make to boost hydration:

  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get enough sleep

Dietary and lifestyle changes will help with general hydration. That includes the skin. However, skin can benefit from some "outside help," too.

A well-planned skincare routine can do miracles for skin hydration. Here are some tips on how to fix dehydrated skin from the outside:

  • Wash your face with lukewarm water
  • Use cleansers that are free of harsh chemicals. Check the product labels for mineral oils, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, petrolatum, propylene glycol, etc. These are the ingredients you want to avoid.
  • Avoid gritty face scrubs. Your skin is regenerating all the time. In its best shape, it takes 25 days to replace dead cells with new ones. However, dehydrated skin needs even more time. With exfoliation, you can help your skin remove the dead cells faster. But, you'll want to avoid irritation. That is why you need to avoid harsh exfoliators.
  • Use moisturizers and serums which have ingredients for skin replenishment. Try using hyaluronic acid serums. Hyaluronic acid is naturally present in your skin. It is humectant. That means it binds moisture and helps your skin to retain water. Hyaluronic acid serums can boost the hydration of your skin. The result is softer, plumper, and healthier skin.

The Bottom Line

Dehydrated skin can cause discomfort, and it does not look good. On its own, it is usually not a health-endangering problem. However, it can be the first sign of a potentially more serious issue because it is an indicator of your body's overall hydration status. Additionally, dehydration harms the proper functioning of the skin. Long-term, this can be a source of other skin problems. For all these reasons, it is crucial to know how to fix dehydrated skin and resolve the overall hydration issues timely and in a proper way.

References:

Duarte I, Silveira JEPS, Hafner MFS, Toyota R, Pedroso DMM. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending concept. An Bras Dermatol. 2017;92(4):521-525. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.201756111

University of Pennsylvania Health System. The Winter Itch: What Causes Dry Skin, and What You Can Do About It. Health and Wellness. Retrieved Feb. 25th. 2021 from website: https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2017/february/dry-skin